Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are two very common occurrences during the summer months, particularly in countries where people are not used to having a lot of hot sunshine. However, many people do not understand the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion, wrongfully presuming that they are one and the same thing. I will take the time to look at when you are most at risk from both conditions, before explaining what both of the conditions are, so you know the difference when it comes to heat stroke vs heat exhaustion.
When Are You Most at Risk of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?
People who live in hot climates are generally less at risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke because they are used to the environment they live in. However, if people live in countries with average temperatures and a heat wave occurs, or if people visit a country with a hotter climate, they often don’t know how to behave to protect themselves and become a victim of either or both conditions.
What Is Heat Exhaustion?
In heat exhaustion, the core temperature of a person (the temperature inside the body) rises to levels that are too high, between 98.6°F (37°C) and 104°F (40°C). When the body is at this temperature, it works so hard at cooling you down that the levels of salt and water within the body start to fall. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
• Feeling faint
• Feeling sick
• Heavy sweating
If you suspect someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, because you notice some of the above heat exhaustion symptoms, it is important to quickly take them to a cooler place, remove their excess clothing and give them some water. Usually, they will start to feel better in around half an hour. However, if they are not treated, they have the potential to develop heat stroke. This is why, if you see heat exhaustion signs and the person is not recovering, they should be taken to hospital for treatment. This is particularly true if you spot signs of heat exhaustion in certain at risk groups, including:
• The very young (under two)
• The very old
• People who have diabetes and have to take insulin
• People who have circulation, kidney or heart problems
It is very important to prevent heat exhaustion, which is easily done by ensuring people cover their heads, do not wear excessive clothing and drink plenty of water. People should also stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, generally between 11am and 3pm.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is a very serious condition, far more so than heat exhaustion. When a person has heat stroke, their body becomes unable to cool itself down and starts to overheat. With heat stroke, the core temperature of a body rises above 104°F (40°C). When this happens, the inner cells in the body break down and important parts of the body actually stop to work. If heat stroke is not treated, serious complications can occur, including brain damage and organ failure. Death from heat stroke has occurred.
Some heat strokes symptoms include:
• Hyperventilation (rapid but shallow breathing)
• Mental confusion
• Loss of consciousness
If you spot any of the symptoms of heat stroke, you need to seek medical attention immediately. Generally, people how have heat stroke signs are no longer able to think clearly and take themselves to hospital and you will have to take charge over them. In order to prevent heat stroke, you need to take the same steps as the ones you would use to prevent heat exhaustion, as well as being able to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion so you are able to intervene before it develops into heat stroke. Again, the very young, very old and infirm are most at risk of developing heat stroke.